Halloween: the night you get to eat candy for dinner. This was just one of my favorite parts about the holiday growing up. I loved to dress up; run from house to house with friends, screaming, "Trick or treat!"; use a pillowcase (hello — it holds more candy!) to catch all the goods; and sort/trade candy at the end of the night with my brothers. Now that I'm a parent, I want my two children to enjoy this holiday, too. Maybe not candy for dinner, but you know what I mean.
However, this is easier said than done, especially for my youngest son with autism. For him, going to random homes, asking for candy, and wearing an itchy costume while surrounded by lots of other kids in costumes is more like a nightmare. Halloween for our family is still fun, just a very different kind of fun. If you have a child with autism in your neighborhood or have the pleasure of an autistic child ringing your doorbell this Halloween, here are a few tips and things to keep in mind.
1. Try not to ask, "What are you supposed to be?"
My son is nonverbal, so he won't answer. But that doesn't mean he doesn't want to answer your question or is being rude. Believe me, I know you mean no harm; you're just being friendly to the cute little stranger looking for candy at your door. Instead, just offer up an easy, positive message: "Happy Halloween!"
2. Kids with autism might not say "Trick or treat" or even "thank you."
Verbal kids with autism might be very overwhelmed at the whole trick-or-treating process. Getting to your doorstep and pressing the bell might be just about all they can handle.
3. Don't deny candy if there is no costume.
Sometimes I can barely get a shirt on my son, let alone a hat when the weather is cold. The thought of putting him in a costume or mask makes me panic. I spend a lot of time thinking of costumes that won't irritate him or require any accessories. Last Halloween, I chose a stormtrooper sweatshirt (those character sweatshirts are the best invention, ever!) and white sweat pants. My son would not put up the hood, but I still considered it a win.
4. Yes, this is the same costume from last year!
Kids with autism fall in love with characters or items, and if it makes them calm to be that character every year, well, great! Did I mention how awesome those character sweatshirts are? My neighbors will be seeing it again. I've found my costume cure!
5. Meltdowns might happen right on your doorstep!
We try to prepare our kids for weeks leading up to this day, but when the doorbell rings, they might not handle it so well. Maybe you have a dog that barks or candy they don't like or stickers they want more of. You name it, it can happen. Instead of thinking, "Wow, what a spoiled brat," take a second to look at the parents. Ask them, "What can I do? Do you need anything?"
6. Remember to be kind.
Every parent, not just the one of a special needs child, could use a warm smile. No one is perfect.